From Calgary to Antigua to Bermuda

Spartan 301

July 11, 2017

by Laura Benkis

Lunenburg based Spartan Ocean Racing have had a busy year providing their clients with exciting offshore racing experiences. With their modern 60’ offshore race boats and professional crew, even novice sailors get to experience high speed ocean sailing. Laura Benkis sent us this account for her adventure.

This spring, I had the pleasure of sailing with Spartan Ocean Racing & Training from Lunenburg, Nova Scotia during both the 50th ‘Antigua Sailing Week’ and then the inaugural ‘Antigua to Bermuda Race’.

I had not sailed in the Caribbean prior to these two events and all my training and offshore sailing was in the cold waters around the UK, the English Channel and Laura Benkisthe North Atlantic. So, I was looking forward to wearing shorts and a T- shirt rather than wishing (with chattering teeth) that I’d brought just one more layer to put on. I was also sick of putting on wet clothes, foulies, and soggy boots to go on watch, so with sandals, sunscreen, and sunglasses packed and smiling ear to ear, I flew to Antigua.

Spartan Ocean Racing & Training operates a fleet of Volvo 60s and has a unique program designed to develop excellence in seamanship. Led by exceptionally skilled skippers and trainers who have a combined mileage of 330,000 NM’s, it doesn’t matter if you are a novice or seasoned sailor or have never stepped foot on a boat, their training programs are designed to be inclusive for all skill levels with a significant emphasis on safety.

Day sailing on a Volvo 60 during Antigua Sailing Week was busy. Lots of manoeuvres and sail changes, so if you were not familiar with boat mechanics, you’d get the hang of it quickly. We got slotted into one or two jobs so that a cohesiveness could start to form in the crew and I was surprised how quickly a rhythm developed between the crew.

Deciding to sail 1000+ nautical miles to Bermuda in the Antigua Bermuda Race was a last-minute decision for me. Part way through Antigua Sailing Week, I decided I wanted to sail on with Spartan. I had next to no kit with me, but I managed to borrow what I needed from friends and some strangers and had enough to get by. It’s amazing how little you actually need for a week at sea.

I was looking forward to going offshore. Getting back to day-to-day existence on a watch system living in 3 hour increments where day flows into night, and back to day. Winds were light and fickle for the most part. Once night watch whilst I was helming, I had this distinct feeling were going in circles – turns out we were. Skipper popped up on deck and I think he told us that we were heading back to Antigua – that’s how good my helming skills are. Being a learning environment though, I was forced to confront my discomfort of helming and just do it. How else was I going to learn and get better? That’s the thing about Spartan, as much as we are in racing situation on a stripped-down 60 ft. race yacht, we are also in a learning environment. The skippers take the time to stop and explain, and teach. I’ve come out the other side a better sailor with new skills.

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